As shameful as it sounds, I am a public reader. I wasn’t particularly aware that I was one until a good friend defined the term for me. Well, paraphrased, she defined public reading as the act of reading books in a shop without actually paying for them. Yes, I have the happy habit of lingering for hours at the country’s national bookstore, immersing myself in pages of bestsellers and not-so-popular books, digesting pragmatic wisdom and laughing my mind off ( since I can’t LOL!) with prose and poetry . I would stand there in a corner, usually at the back of the store, oblivious to other bookworms and curious onlookers, totally engrossed in Og Mandino’s inspiring stories or trying hard to contain my laughter to Bob Ong’s antics or typing into my cellphone intriguing lines from books. I think this last bit I learned to do after a guard caught me red-handed writing on a small notebook. “ Mam, bawal pong magsulat dito” ( Ma’am writing is not allowed here ) he said. Embarassing! Okay, so I’m not a journalist. No pen and paper here. Well, let’s just pretend that I’m texting someone then. Yeah, that’ll do. Now, please leave me alone! Thanks!
I would be so lost to the world that there was a time I actually forgot my little sister was with me. She was in the store but then she got emotionally frazzled when she couldn’t find me anywhere (because I was at the back, remember?). When I got to her, she was crying and her nose was bleeding. Luckily, some strangers in the restroom gave her tissue. I tried to calm her down by telling her that I was in the store all along, that I didn’t leave her. Later on, my aunt arrived and bought her some cold freshly blended fruit juice. A middle aged Korean guy even helped pinch her nose. He stood by her for a few minutes while I just stared at my sister’s nose, placing more tissue as the need arose.These relaxed her and stopped the bleeding. To this day though, she asks if we have tissue if we’re going to NBS. I hope I haven’t traumatized her for life! (Who knew selective inattention could have such consequences?) Okay, so I need to be more in tune with my environment. Focus now. Where am I again? Oh, I’m in my room.
Anyway, the hassles of being a public reader don’t stop there. There were also times when I would forget I was meeting a friend somewhere in the mall or a friend couldn’t get a hold of me because there was no cellphone signal in the book store. It becomes a game of hide and seek through rows and columns of books. But, thank goodness, they’d find me or I’d find them (eventually!). I guess, these would be the social inconveniences of being a public reader.
Physically? Standing for hours takes its toll on you. My legs would often feel numb, I’d have to switch from standing on one leg to the other just to keep a thrombus from forming. Recently though, just this one time, I dared to do something different – I dared to Indian sit on the floor and just read as if I was in the comforts of my own bed. At this point, my legs were almost nonexistent and just couldn’t resist folding themselves on to the floor. I can almost feel them thanking me for this innovative idea. It also felt good having that “So what?” attitude for once. I’m sitting on my butt reading a self-help book and so what?! (Maybe I do need all the help I can get! Hahaha! ) Seriously, I just did this for a few paragraphs then I would soon realize that the floor was really cold and that I do live in this neighborhood.
However, there’s a lot to be said about this bookstore’s policies. Before, I would be so happy when I have my little sister with me so we both can sit in the children’s section. We enjoy eating cake and reading books together, especially on Sundays. But recently, the new policy says that you need to have a child under 3 y/o with you so that you could sit on that divine red carpet.What?! So now a mom witnessed my apparent humiliation when a guard asked if I had a child with me (so I can sit in the children’s section) and I honestly replied, “Wala po” (I don’t) .(Whoever said honesty was the best policy? Wait, I think that was my motto in elementary! ) I literally had to stand up and just walk a step to the uncarpeted area to continue reading the book. A step?! Ridiculous, right?! Thankfully, the lady was very sympathetic and told me, you should have said “Kasama mo siya (You’re with her)“ pointing at her daughter. If only I thought of that earlier myself! Argh!!
These are , however, minor inconveniences compared to the perks of being a public reader. Well, for starters, I probably have finished reading a dozen (or so, I don’t really keep track) of books for FREE using this scheme. It feels exciting in a weird strange way. It’s almost as if I’m like a fly on the wall and getting away with it because I actually don’t buy any of their books. (Okay, so I’ve probably bought a few — but only those that I felt would be great keepsakes) Their thoughts helped me cope with words of hope and spirit at very little expense. I feel like I’ve successfully added them to my own personal library of thoughts and inspiration. Most of the time, I don’t buy a hard copy and instead just get a very personal and very vivid imprint of plots, characters and life lessons that are almost as good as the real thing ( except of course, when my memory falters). Interestingly though, I rarely forget things I read or watch. I just forget ‘occasionally’ things I have in my hands (except if its food, like the prawn crackers I’m eating now while typing: greasy but lovely snacks =))
I also have certain experiences in that bookstore, personal and sentimental moments. I remember waiting for a good friend at that bookstore. I noticed a book entitled, “ Happier” and was curious to know what it was about. I asked a salesperson if there was one that was already open, sort of a sample copy. There was none. But to my surprise, she got a book and opened it for me. I felt as if I bought a new book! I was the first to read it and that moment felt special. Like a kid in a candy store, they say. Well I say, I felt like a bookworm in a bookstore. I think I got through half of the book before I realized I was going to meet someone for coffee!
There was also a time when I was so angry and couldn’t really let it out. I just had to channel it somewhere productive. ( I think this ego defense mechanism is called sublimation, right ? ) . I could feel my chest become heavy because of the pent up anger. If only I could, I really wanted to scream my lungs out ( but of course I shouldn’t , I was in the mall ). Instead, I chose to call a friend about it and talked to her about what happened. She helped but talking just wasn’t enough. It’s frustrating because I couldn’t confront the person concerned! I then stormed angrily into the store and just picked up a book . Yeah, it’s might be a little idiosyncractic but I had to do something or I just knew would burst into flames. At first, I really couldn’t concentrate very well, as if my eyes were just passing through the words while my brain is heading somewhere else. But with a little focus, I got through a sentence and then another and then another. I was reading a significant part of of Og Mandino’s life. I really didn’t notice until I read that he also got to a very low point in his life. He was virtually homeless, broke and worse, his wife and child left him. It was raining that day. He passed by a gun shop and thought to himself, “Just a few dollars, and I could end everything right here.” But then, something inside him told him to think about it first. He had to find a place to think and then he saw a building nearby. It was a public library. He said going to that library saved his life. He then came there every now and then, seeking solace and inspiration from great men. Then he went and fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a great writer! Mission: Success!
I think knowing that my favorite author found something helpful in books comforted me. Somehow, it made me think that I probably needed to be angry and read his book so that I’d realize that something better does come along. I may have been angry but I believe I’ll get pass it. “This too shall pass” I said to myself. My blood was still simmering but at least by now it was already 30 degrees below boiling point. My hands that were once clenched into tight fists are now clasping the edges of his book, focused and relaxed. My mind that was once reeling with “ How dare yous!” is slowly calming itself down. Slowly, the anger I felt was replaced with relief. A few pages more and I was almost back to my old self. And I was smiling inside before I left the store, lighthearted and thankful.
Public libraries, bookshops, book sales have the same soul – books. But each has its own special qualities. You’d probably think, “Hey, it’s just as if you’re in a public library.” I think not. Public libraries, at least in my experience, don’t have the latest bestsellers or handy self help books like, “ He’s just not that into you.” ( or me! ) They don’t have kids lying on their bellies, imagining worlds of magic and fantasy , of good and evil, of neverending stories. They don’t have the frantic book sales and the voracious bookworms. They don’t have rendezvous spots (usually in front of the bookstore) and dead cell zones ( maybe they do but I would guess very few people meet up at public libraries) . They don’t have lists of top selling fiction and non fiction books that entice you to save some of your salary and allowance just to buy one. They don’t have teenagers anxiously asking when the last book of the trilogy would be in stock.It’s a whole new world in there, a world of infinite possibilities that comes with every new arrival of books and booklovers as well. It might not be paradise but it sure feels like home to me.
I patiently look forward to my next visit to NBS , that is, if I don’t get banned from the store because of these ‘silly remarks’. Next on my list, Napoleon Hill’s “Success Unlimited”. Inspiration or Self help section? Hmmmmm…
By the way, what do you call people reading in public libraries then? My brilliant counterparts! =)
How bout you? Have you ever tried public reading? How was the experience?
Note: This was written several years back/It’s been awhile since I’ve done public reading.